The holy grail is free travel by manipulating your spending or business travel paid for by your employer in such a way that you get free miles and points for your personal use. If you are a business traveler, you are probably already doing this so this post will be more useful to non-frequent travelers who want to travel someplace they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go. Many of the places I have been writing about for eco-travel such as Brazil, Peru, Australia, India, the Cook Islands would be only a distant dream if not for miles and points.
Some non-frequently flying people will have better opportunities than others. Currently people in the USA are the luckiest with all the credit card sign up bonuses and manufactured spending (using a miles/points credit card to buy gift cards that can be liquidated or used to pay the same credit card’s bill). I have some very basic guides on this but my style is more “teaching you how to fish” rather than spoon-feeding so you need to be able to take the basics and apply them yourself and be proactive about seeking out the best sign-up bonuses. These can change daily so always check around before getting a new credit card. Credit card sign-up bonuses are the closest thing to free miles if you use the cards only for things you have to buy anyway and pay the bills off each month. I suppose Facebook contests and sweepstakes would be true FREE miles but the odds of winning those are so slim. It’s worth a try if you are active on Facebook.
Some promos such as the Daily Getaways are directed at Americans only and recent reports show that non-US credit cards have been rejected. Last year, I was able to buy a package from Daily Getaways with an Aussie Amex but haven’t tried yet this year. Other promos such as the 100% bonus miles when you buy miles are available to anyone. US Airways and Avianca-Taca are famous for this type of promo. Then there are shopping promos where you use an airline’s shopping portal to get miles or do a certain number of transactions with partners to get bonus miles. The US Airways Grand Slam was the best by far of this sort of promo but hasn’t been seen since Sept 2011 and won’t be back because they are merging with American Airlines later this year. 2008-2011 were the golden years for people who wanted to get LOTS of cheap miles with partners if they weren’t true FREQUENT fliers. My husband and I still have a couple trips left for next year we earned with Grand Slam from previous years.
The thing with promos are that in most cases, you aren’t getting FREE miles/points anymore. You are paying for them at a reduced rate. Take Daily Getaways for example. Next week, there are point purchases available for Best Western, Choice and IHG Priority Club.
The following week, IHG Priority Club and Wyndham points are on offer.
So how do you know if they represent a good deal for you?
You need to have a good idea of what your future travel plans are. What airlines can you use, what hotel chains are at the cities you will visit or transit?
Compare the cost of buying points through this promo vs other options. Can you use a discount code (Expedia, Hotels.com) to book any hotel, not just a chain hotel for a better price? Can you earn airline miles for your hotel booking via Pointshound? Can you get free points from getting the hotel’s credit card or transferring points from Amex Membership Rewards (most countries) or Ultimate Rewards (USA only)? Do you really want to stay in a chain hotel vs a local independant hotel?
Look at what the hotel chain’s reward program allows you to redeem your points for. Would buying one of these package get you a better value on the hotel chain’s partners? Here are the pages for the hotel chains to help you determine this, you will have to do your own math though!
IHG (Priority Club)
Converting to airline miles
You will notice that most hotel chains have airlines as their partners so you can redeem hotel points for airline miles. In past years, this has been extremely lucrative when using Daily Getaways. This year, the promo has been so over-exposed, the prices have gone up on the point packages so they may or may not represent a good value to you. Pull out your calculator and start doing the math. The things you need to consider when buying airline miles in this way.
- Is it cheaper to just buy the flight and earn miles for it?
- Can you get a better deal on Priceline, Groupon or similar?
- Will you be traveling within the next couple of years? (Airlines can depreciate their programs in the meanwhile)
- Is the hotel program likely to depreciate the redemption rate before you can swap them for airline miles?
- Is your personal situation likely to change before you have a chance to use the miles (new job, moving, health, fitness, marriage, baby, etc)?
- Will the points or miles expire before you can use them?
- Can you afford to outlay the cash now for a possible savings in the future?
If you read a lot of miles and points type travel blogs or forums such as Flyertalk, you will see some people praising these deals as the greatest thing since sliced bread. For many people, these deals may be the best value, for others they may not be. Don’t let anyone (blogger or otherwise) whip you into a competitive frenzy over this or any other promo. They don’t know you, they only know their own situation and what is good for them. Everyone is an individual and has their own personal circumstances so I would encourage everyone to do their own research and their own math.